Saturday 2 September 2023

Salman Rushdie on Satyajit Ray

Few people know that Satyajit Ray got his first exposure to the film business under his maternal uncle, Nitin Bose- who cast Ray's wife (also his first cousin) in a supporting role in 'Mashaal' in 1950. A year or so previously, Ray had got married in Bombay where his uncle was so influential that Prithviraj Kapoor himself attended the reception. However, this was a secret wedding as Ray's family objected to his marrying an older woman and a blood relative to boot. I suppose the family considered 'Filmi' Bombay to be crass and vulgar. Perhaps this explains why Ray took pains not to seek popularity for his films.

 It is said that Ray was greatly influenced by Uday Shankar's dance-drama 'Kalpana'. Uday- the elder brother of Ravi Shankar- was a self-taught dancer who had won acclaim in Europe. Sadly, 'Kalpana' didn't make money which was ironic because the film was about an artist bitterly berating money-mad producers and the complacent, philistine, bourgeoisie. It appears that the proles, just like the plutocrats, didn't think much of such artists and will not pay to watch their self-indulgent shite. 

Writing in the LRB more than 30 years ago, Salman Rushdie captured all that was good about Satyajit Ray with his first paragraph-  

‘I can never forget the excitement in my mind after seeing it,’ Akira Kurosawa said about Satyajit Ray’s first film, Pather Panchali (The Song of the Little Road), and it’s true: this movie, made for next to nothing, mostly with untrained actors, by a director who was learning (and making up) the rules as he went along, is a work of such lyrical and emotional force that it becomes, for its audiences, as potent as their own most deeply personal memories.

There is something else here which Kurosawa is remarking- viz. the depiction of wabi, sabi & yugen in an explicitly samsaric setting. A snake enters the abandoned house at the end of the film. This is the doctrine of rebirth as a complex combinatorial problem for karmic mathematics. It has similarities with the shadow price vectors of the Marxian mathematical economists. Ironically, since the family is moving to Benares (those who die in that City gain ultimate liberation) they will never be reunited with the daughter who died.  This has a certain poignance for Hindus or Buddhists. But not for Ray who thought it mere happenstance because he was Western in his thinking.

To this day, the briefest snatch of Ravi Shankar’s wonderful theme music

Shankar had done the music for the first Indian film to win a prize at Cannes back in 1946. Having trained under his elder brother Uday- whose dance troupe toured Europe- he well knew what was 'universal' in the Hindustani classical canon.  

brings back a flood of feeling, and a crowd of images: the single eye of the little Apu, seen at the moment of waking, full of mischief and life; the insects dancing on the surface of the pond,

very Basho! But then the Bengali bhadralok had an earlier access to Japanese aesthetics than most of Europe because of people like Isaac Titsingh.  Dwarkanath Tagore had a Japanese pavilion in his pleasure ground back when Japan was still isolationist. At the beginning of the Century, Okakura Tenshin had spent a couple of years in Calcutta. He had a big influence on what would become the Shantiniketan style of art which Ray had mastered. 

prefiguring the coming monsoon rains; and above all the immortal scene, one of the most tragic in all cinema, in which Harihar the peasant comes home to the village from the city, bringing presents for his children, not knowing that his daughter has died in his absence. When he shows his wife, Sarbajaya, the sari he has brought for the dead girl, she begins to weep; and now he understands, and cries out too; but – and this is the stroke of genius – their voices are replaced by the high, high music of a single tarshehnai, a sound like a scream of the soul.

Harihar isn't a peasant. He is a Brahmin priest. If his family is poor, it is because of the decline of Hindu religion. Still, Rushdie's version is better- derived perhaps from Bimal Roy's 'do bigha zamin'- because it is 'universal'- i.e. linked to a stupid economic theory.

Sadly, Bibhuti- the author of Pather Panchali- was Hindu. He'd once been part of the Cow Protection League. Durga dies to be reborn. As a snake sheds its skin only to take another so too will all the relationships that flourished or declined under that particular thatched roof go through various permutations in future lives till all gain moksha. That is the meaning of the snake slithering into the house abandoned by the family which is setting off to Benares where, if death overtake you there, the river of Samsara is crossed once and for all.  

Pather Panchali was the first Ray movie I ever saw,

It is the only one which might make you want to watch a second such.  

and, like many cinema-addicted Indians, I saw it not in India but in London.

Few 'cinema-addicted Indians' managed to get to London. If they did, the last thing they wanted to do was to watch a movie by Ray. 

Rushdie studied at Cambridge which must have had a Film Society. Pamela Cullen at the Indian High Commission regularly sent Ray's movies to such University Film Societies back in the Sixties and Seventies. It was her job to promote that miserabilist shite.  She was a wonderful person who had thrown in her lot with the poor people of Africa and Asia back in the Thirties. Did she know the Dynasty and its anglophile sycophants were keeping India poor? Perhaps. Women may be loyal but they are as sharp as brass tacks. 

In spite of having grown up in the world’s number-one movie city, Bombay (‘Bollywood’, in those days, produced more movies per annum than Los Angeles or Tokyo or Hong Kong),

Only because Indian TV was Government owned and utterly shit.  

I knew less about India’s greatest film-maker

Rushdie knew plenty about the Kapoors and Anands and the various wonderful Khans of Bombay who genuinely were great film-makers. Come to think of it, Dilip Kumar went to a very posh skool and spoke English with a pukka accent. Saif Ali Khan went to Winchester. Rushdie's elite education was no bar to his appreciation of Bollywood. Indeed, if his father hadn't decided to emigrate to Pakistan (probably so as to get good husbands in the Army or Civil Service for his daughters) Rushdie himself would have been the Urdu equivalent of Girish Karnad in Bombay. Sadly, he would also have had to sit on various boring Government Committees and would have ended up in the fucking Rajya Sabha. 

than I did about ‘international cinema’ (or, at any rate, the movies of Robert Taylor, the Three Stooges, Francis the Talking Mule and Maria Montez). It was at the old Academy in Oxford Street, at the National Film Theatre, and at the Arts Cinema in Cambridge, that, with mixed feelings of high elation and shame at my own previous ignorance, I filled in this lamentable gap.

The gap remained. Rushdie saw a film about a poor peasant. Hindus saw a film about a Brahmin whose deficiencies in priest-craft had left the family vulnerable. 

By the middle Sixties, when the Nouvelle Vague hit the cinemas like a tidal wave,

did it though? The Brits were producing better movies back then- more particularly in the field of using child actors. Rushdie's own 'Midnight's Children' could have been a great serial if he had digested the lessons of 'Whistle down the Wind'.  

and the names of Truffaut and Godard and Resnais and Malle and Antonioni and Fellini and Bergman and Wajda and Kurosawa and Buñuel became more important to us than that of any mere novelist,

that has changed. Of those mentioned, only Kurosawa's oeuvre is watchable in its entirety. Like Hitchcock or David Lean, he was fundamentally a work horse whose virtuosity alone endowed him with the wings of a Pegasus. 

and when the new movie in a given week might be called Jules et Jim or Alphaville, and might be followed, a week later, by Ashes and Diamonds or The Seven Samurai or Le Feu Follet or L’Eclisse or 8½ or The Saragossa Manuscript – when, that is to say, the cinema was ablaze with innovation and originality, I took real pride in the knowledge I gained from Ray’s films: that this explosion of creative genius had its Indian dimension, too.

It didn't. Ray peaked with his first film and then declined. Seven Samurai has been remade by everybody umpteen times. Nobody has ever imitated Ray. What would be the point?  

This was not an opinion shared by all Indians. Because Ray, a Bengali, made films in his own language,

like Kurosawa etc.  

his films were not distributed outside Bengal.

Nor outside Calcutta unless they were seen as 'quickies' or child oriented. Even the Bengali buddhijivis don't want to bore kids to death probably because their Mummies might beat them. 

His international success brought predictable sniping at home.

No. Nehru patronised him. Indira, a fellow Shantiniketan alumni, was supportive. To attack Ray was to attack a Dynasty much more ruthless than the Windsors.  

Andrew Robinson

an Old Etonian the same age as Pico Iyer 

records, in Satyajit Ray: The Inner Eye, a paradigmatic expression of this resentment,

there was no 'resentment'. There was irritation. Ray could have made good enough movies. But he was as pig-headed as the Dynasty- or rather the Dynasty's Cambridge educated 'loyalists'. 

which also brings the vulgar, energetic (and, it must be said, sneakily appealing)

Fuck off! Bollywood like Hollywood aint 'sneaky' in the way it responds to the market. It is simply an industry not in need of Government handouts.  

Bombay cinema into direct conflict with the highbrow, uncompromising, ‘difficult’ Ray.

Ray wasn't an intellectual. He hadn't joined the PTA or other Communist fronts back when all the other brainy, or prodigiously talented, young people did. There was nothing 'difficult' about Ray's scenes a faire, tepidly Lefty, 'social' films. They were simply boring and stupid.

The Bombay movie star Nargis (Nargis Dutt),

who, along with Raj Kapoor, was a mega-star in the Soviet Union and various Muslim countries but also Greece.  

star of the 1957 mega-weepie Mother India, was by the beginning of the Eighties a member of the Indian Parliament, from which exalted position she launched an attack on Ray:

Bombay wasn't happy that the Central Government was giving the old fool money. Anyway, Nargis was a heroine in actual Warsaw Pact countries and thus could attack the bourgeois 'humanist' whom the Capitalist West pretended to admire but wouldn't actually pay to watch. 

Nargis: Why do you think films like Pather Panchali become popular abroad? ... Because people there want to see India in an abject condition.

The US and UK. The genuine Commies loved Raj Kapoor and, later, Mithun was a big star there.  

That is the image they have of our country and a film that confirms that image seems to them authentic.

Ray was 'gentry'. Nargis was working class. Poor people want to achieve things and rise up. Ray wanted to be very very fucking boring.  

Wagner- the ultimate Nazi avant la lettre- objected to having to put on the ballet in the First Act so members of the Jockey Club could watch their mistress and then copulate with them during intermission before going on to some place less cacophonous than the Opera. Cinema, fulfilling the Wagnerian ideal of a Gesamtkunstwerk- or 'total' work of art- did not face Wagner's problem, but, like Wagner, had to accommodate the 'invisible hand' of the market, which is also the 'mysterious economy' of God, in order to turn a fucking profit. Ray didn't because he was a hobbyist whose detective fiction, not his films, kept him in comfort. 

Interviewer: But why should a renowned director like Ray do such a thing?

Because 'renowned Director' meant 'boring shithead' whom only poseurs or pseudo-intellectuals pretended to watch. 

Nargis: To win awards.

Industry must seek its reward from people willing to pay for its product. Absent that reward, an Award merely signifies that you are a very very special sort of cretin who deserves special education and special acclamation because you are so brave.  

His films are not commercially successful. They only win awards ... What I want is that if Mr Ray projects Indian poverty abroad, he should also show ‘Modern India’.

Nargis is saying that Ray, like Tagore, was showing industrialisation to be nasty for aesthetic reasons.  If only Indians could become stupid enough, maybe they could all starve harmoniously to death under conditions of extreme Malthusian agricultural involution. 

Interviewer: What is ‘Modern India’?

Nargis: Dams ...

Like in 'Mother India'. Nargis was saying to Indira 'Your Daddy was popular because he believed in big Dams and Electricity. You became popular because of your slogan 'Remove Poverty'. Tell Doordarshan to stop giving money to Ray to make shitty films.' The fact is Om Puri and Smita were great actors. But Ray could do nothing with them in his adaptation of Premchand. That's another point. Premchand is as boring as shit. Still he made some money from the film 'Mazdoor' about workers going on strike but then his own workers demanded he pay their arrears of wages. That was fucking hilarious!  

She was answered by a letter from the Forum for Better Cinema: ‘Do you honestly believe that [Modern India] is portrayed in the so-called commercial films of Bombay? In fact, the world of commercial Hindi films is peopled by thugs,

who became politicians or who propped them up 


like Dawood Ibrahim who had a significant impact on the politics of the Nineties. Indeed, Nargis's son would do jail time in this connection.  


like Phoolan Devi who became an MP

voyeurs, murderers, cabaret dancers, sexual perverts, degenerates, delinquents and rapists, which can hardly be called representative of modern India.’

plenty of murderers were legislators. Sadly cabaret dancers remain under-represented in the Rajya Sabha.  

Soon afterwards, Robinson tells us: ‘The Government informed Ray it could not grant him permission to make a film about child labour since this did not constitutionally exist in India.’

Nobody needs 'permission' to make a film. The Film Division said it would not provide finance.  On the other hand, the West Bengal government had helped Ray finance his first film. 

(The Indian Government has a weakness for the ostrich position.

No. It is a bureaucracy which follows the rules for fear that somebody in Parliament might make a fuss about something they signed off on in which case they might be denied a promotion or a gong. Rushdie should have understood that India was as boring, and as 'Yes Minister',  as Britain. 

My own 1987 documentary, The Riddle of Midnight,

Rushdie was not a citizen. He needed a special visa and special permits for filming.  

ran into trouble because, among other things, I mentioned that all the Kashmiri Muslims I spoke to were

highly unrepresentative. The fact is women and 'ajlis' Kashmiris didn't want to be raped and robbed by more 'martial' tribes from across the border.  

highly disaffected with India, and wanted to join Pakistan.

Zia's Pakistan? Fuck are you smoking, dude? 

This was officially unsayable at the time, and so I was accused of fundamentalist sympathies:

Yeah right! Rushdie is a full bearded Salafi! Fuck off! Rushdie was dismissed as a prancing ninny who was bound to get himself into hot water- which is what actually happened.  

less than three years later, the lid that New Delhi pushed down over the Kashmir issue for so long may finally have blown off.)

By then Rushdie was in hiding.  BTW there was no fucking lid. The fire-brigade can encourage arsonists so as to do better for itself. Look at Pakistan!

The exchange between Nargis Dutt and Ray’s supporters, the quarrel between the philistine/commercial/jingoistic position

Nargis was a great actress- better than Sharmila whose range was limited or, to be truthful, even Shabhana. Madhubala, Meena Kumari, Waheeda, Tabu and Nargis were in a class apart. 

Ray, despite his plentiful talent, simply wasn't making good movies. He was a hobbyist for whom the Dynasty had a soft spot. Woody Allen had his finger on the pulse of New York. He may have been a self-indulgent 'auteur' but he was part and parcel of the autopoietic mythos of 'Baghdad-on-the-Hudson'.

Cinema can be 'universal'- e.g. that of Chaplin- but it must be autopoietic or it is nothing. Ray's oeuvre, like Rushdie's, was nothing. It was parasitic on India as a topos and derivative in everything else. 

Rushdie, thanks to his Dad's decision to relocate to Pakistan where being boring and upper class was not enough to get you on to the State's TV or Radio (thanks to Z.A Bukhari?), developed a 'masala' style of writing which was not wholly miserabilist. But Kipling was still way better without any fucking masala- which, truth be told, us desis owe to the 'sauda' of the  'Saudade' Portuguese- i.e. the mercantile and maritime prowess of a profoundly metaphysical- not to say morose- Nation. 

and the aesthete/purist/open-eyed view, can be seen in a number of different ways:

No. There is only one way to look at an industry- viz. does it make money or is it being subsidized by the Government because it is shitty?  

as a quarrel between two definitions of patriotic love, because while Nargis all but calls Ray anti-Indian his love for India is, as Mr Robinson asserts, powerfully evident throughout his oeuvre;

Loving X can mean wanting X to rise up or it can mean wanting to take down X's pants for some purpose of one's own.  

and, more interestingly, perhaps, as a dispute between two very different urban cultures, the cosmopolitan, brash bitch-city of Bombay versus the old intellectual traditions of Calcutta.

Nargis was born in Calcutta. Ray made a couple of films showing Calcutta as not merely shitty but also bitchy- in so far as that epithet can apply to a bilious beldame gone in the teeth.   

Ray himself is, with much justification, scathing about the Bombay talkies.

Many of which were made by genuine Leftists. Ray was just a gentleman dabbler who, belatedly and in a creaking, geriatric manner, tried to move to the Left.  

India, he says, ‘took one of the greatest inventions of the West with the most far-reaching artistic potential, and cut it down to size’.

By 1968, the politics of Tamil Nadu had been taken over by film stars or scriptwriters. It is now the most industrialized State in India. In 1961, West Bengal had the highest per capita income of any state in India. Now it is behind Chattisgarh.  Making boring movies can make your region shittier and shittier. 

Endless Bollywood remakes of Love Story, The Magnificent Seven etc go a long way to proving his point.

No they don't. Magnificent Seven is a remake of Kurosawa. Sholay might be considered its Indian remake except that it is superior in every respect. 'Love Story' was not remade. Rushdie, cretin that he is, thinks Dimple dies in 'Bobby'. She doesn't. On the other hand Rajesh Khanna did a remake of Kramer vs Kramer but it featured a dancing elephant and was actually closer to 'Mr and Mrs '55'. 

However, being a Bombaywallah myself, I can’t avoid observing that in the battle between Bombay and Calcutta,

Bombay recruited talent from Calcutta. There was no 'battle'. Bombay was where smart Bengalis went if they wanted to make non-boring movies.  

Andrew Robinson seems more emphatically on Ray’s side than Ray himself.

Old Etonians tend to be a bit shit in the thinking department as Cameron and Boris demonstrated. 

He makes a number of unfairly dismissive remarks about the ‘new’ or ‘middle’ cinema now growing up in Bombay, Kerala and elsewhere.

Mani Ratnam was more fucking middle class than either. He made 'Dil Se'.  

This attempt to steer a course between mandarin and moneybags attitudes to the movies is, we are told, ‘lacking in commitment’ to its subject-matter – a vague sort of assertion and one that demeans the solid achievements of the directors he names, Benegal, Gopalakrishnan and Aravindan.

Who seemed promising at one time.  Benegal was Guru Dutt's nephew. There is a direct 'sampradaya' type line of descent or 'aesthetic genealogy' from Uday Shankar to Benegal. 

‘There is a superficiality and dullness in most of the work of the “new” cinema that seems to derive from the fake urban culture of modern India,

better concentrate on fake rural culture of ancient India- right?  

and which arises ultimately from the failure of imagination in the Indian “synthesis” of the last century,’ Mr Robinson suggests, in one of the few over-the-top passages in an otherwise scrupulous book.

The book is shit.  Robinson does not get that the 'killer app' for Indian Cinema is the song. Ray's uncle introduced playback singing. Consider 'Rajnigandha'- it had a good song and thus made money which is why its producer was able to finance Ray's 'Chess players'. It would have been easy enough to put in some dynamite thumris and ghazals to make the film profitable. Instead, Ray wasted the talents of Amjad Khan and Sanjeev Kumar. The one guy who did well out of it was Richard Attenborough whose willingness to act in an Indian movie signaled his devotion to the country. That's why Indira quietly backed his making of Gandhi. But Attenborough and Lean were showing that Ray and Sen and other such award winning Indians were shit at making movies about India. Benegal was supposed to make a film about Nehru to rival Attenborough. I wonder what became of the project.

The films he attacks are better than he admits;

No. The 'new' cinema was a bit shit. Still, some great actors got their start their.

and while it’s undeniable that Indian urban culture, Bombay above all, is full of fakery and gaudiness and superficiality and failed imaginations,

one might say the same of London or New York 

it is also a culture of high vitality, linguistic verve, and a kind of metropolitan excitement that European cities have for the most part forgotten.

London is an European City- at least, it was back then.  

And this is as true of Bombay as it is of Ray’s Calcutta.

Rushdie doesn't get that it was Tamil and then Telugu Cinema which was changing politics and changing Society. Bombay films were made by 'English medium' people- many from the North West- in Hindi, while living in a Marathi speaking State. There was an element of deracination though speculative finance was easier to tap. The 'Andhrapreneurs' however fostered quality as well as commercial success. Rushdie himself has turned his gaze to the South. But he became unreadable decades ago.  

The case of Ray’s movie Shatranj ke Khilari (The Chess Players) represents the lowest point in the uneasy relationship between Satyajit Ray and the Bombay film industry.

Nonsense! Sanjeev Kumar, Amjad Khan, Amitabh Bacchan were all happy to work for Ray. But so was Richard Attenborough who got the biggest return out of that boring pile of shite. Indira was impressed by his commitment to India and helped him make 'Gandhi'. 

This film, Ray’s first (and to date only) feature film in Hindi,

'Sadgati' was made for TV. It is utterly shit.  

was a deliberate attempt to enter the mainstream of Indian cinema.

It was supposed to get India an Academy Award for 'best foreign language movie'. The producer had made money with 'Rajnigandha' and thought Ray could deliver a film which would win a prize in America. Still, Attenborough took a shine to the fellow and so he got a credit for 'Gandhi'. 

According to legend, the movie bosses of Bombay ruined the film’s chances by putting pressure on national distributors not to book it.

Very true! Distributors want to lose money. So do Cinema Hall owners. It is the 'movie bosses' who insist they show entertaining films and get rich thereby. Incidentally, prostitutes want to pay their clients for sex but are prevented from doing so by the 'Patriarchy'.  

Mr Robinson sheds little light on the incident, remarking only that ‘Ray refuses to be drawn on the point and has avoided wasting his time trying to find out the truth; but Shama Zaidi, who knows Bombay’s film world well, thinks the existence of a conspiracy against the film “quite probable”.’

It is not probable at all that Zaidi or, her husband, Sathyu know anything at all about how money is made in the film industry.  

Gossip is no substitute for investigation. My own memory of talking to Satyajit Ray about this matter is that he was a more open believer in the conspiracy theory than Mr Robinson allows: but that, in spite of it all, he had found the experience of working in Hindi very stimulating – above all because he had been able to choose from a much larger group of gifted actors than were to be found in the smaller Bengali-language cinema.

This is foolish. If you are making an Urdu language movie, you need guys who speak Urdu. Saeed Jaafrey was pretty successful in England at that time.  

A highbrow auteur who is nevertheless appreciative of the talents of Bollywood movie stars, Satyajit Ray is also, for a man who disapproves of the movies of Buñuel because of ‘the surrealist element’, a man with a strong streak of fantasy. His fairy-tale movie Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne (The Adventures of Goopy and Bagha) is, in Bengal, as well-loved as The Wizard of Oz is here.

'Friends of Dorothy' are Gay. Friends of Goopy are fucking miserable. 

‘It really is extraordinary how quickly Goopy and Bagha has become part of popular culture,’ Ray wrote soon after the movie’s release. ‘Really, there isn’t a child in the city who doesn’t know and sing the songs.’

Even Ray didn't want to be known as a guy whose movies induced catatonia in little children.

So it seems Ray’s work has been quite capable of doing more than winning awards:

Ray had talent. He didn't have to make boring shite. 

but every one of Ray’s fabulist movies has failed, outside India, to attract the plaudits accorded to his more realist films.

Rushdie was under the impression that Joe Lunch-bucket queued up to watch Ray's boring shite.  

Mr Robinson puts this down to ‘the West’s historic disinterest [sic] in the legends of India’, which may be true.

The West is equally uninterested in its own boring shite. Still Himangshu Rai had got German help to make movies about the Buddha and the Mahabharata in the Twenties. His wife, Devika Rani, was Tagore's great-niece. Rai and Rani made a movie in English in 1933 which was well received in England but the Hindi version bombed back home. Tagore too made a movie- Ray's uncle was the cinematographer- at that time. It too bombed. Still Ray's uncle moved to Bombay and invented play-back singing and did well for himself.

Certainly, when I mentioned to Satyajit Ray that The Golden Fortress was one of my favourite movies, he leapt from his breakfast and made huge gesticulations of delight, turning into the epitome of the proud parent whose least-appreciated child has just been lavished with praise.

Either that or Ray took a dim view of the intelligence of Muslims. They may appreciate a silly movie made for retarded children but it would be foolish to expect more from them.  

Goopy and Bagha, Andrew Robinson rightly says, ‘released the vein of pent-up fantasy in Satyajit Ray that is given free rein in his grandfather’s and father’s work’.

Star Wars released a vein of pent-up fantasy to better effect. Incidentally, there was once a film maker named Walt Disney.  

By far the strongest section of Satyajit Ray: The Inner Eye is the opening seventy-page biographical study. Ray came from a family of fantasists, creators of nonsense verse

because anglophile Bengalis knew about Edward Lear whose work was greatly favoured by the Queen Empress. But Lear had greater talent. 

and fabulous hybrid animals – Stortle, Whalephant, Porcuduck – and both Ray’s father Sukumar and his grandfather Upendrakishore were famous for their children’s stories and illustrations, published in the family’s magazine, Sandesh, which means, as Mr Robinson tells us, both Sweetmeat and Information.

It means 'message'.  

But this was also a family of dazzling and varied intellectual and spiritual gifts.

But they had a purely local or regional currency. 

Upendrakishore was a printer whose innovations in half-tone screenprinting were stolen by a British company;

India invented zero. Whitey stole zero from India. 

Sukumar had a visionary side, and saw his own death before it happened.

Other Bengalis thought they would live forever.  

Ray has been deeply affected by his family’s recurring mystical streak (his great-great-grandfather Loknath had it, too); he even attributes his own artistic gifts to it. ‘This whole business of creation ... cannot be explained by science.’

Science can't explain why Whitey stole zero from India.  

Once again, close examination reveals Satyajit Ray to be something other than the realist artist he seems, even claims, to be.

But such close examination involves being bored to death.  

The rest of the Ray clan was no less brilliant. His great-uncle, Hemendranath Bose, was a perfumer, and also ‘a pioneer of the bicycle in India, one of the first people in India to own a motor-car, and the first to make phonogram recordings ... his 14 children included, in due course, a famous singer, a painter and connoisseur of music, a film sound-recordist, four cricketers (one of whom was the name of his time), and a well-known film director, Nitin Bose,

the cinematographer on Rabindranath Tagore's only movie- Natir Puja- which bombed at the box office. Bose moved to Bombay and directed the blockbuster Gunga Jamuna in 1961. 

who would later tell Satyajit he should take up art direction and forget directing.’

Fair point. Ray was a truly gifted artist. He was also very handsome. Directors would have tried to get him in front of the camera. He would have been the next Ashok Kumar. 

With a family like this to live up to, Ray had to start early.

He did a degree in Economics. 

He was ‘highly sensitive as a child to sound and lighting. Half a century later, he can remember various vanished street cries and the fact that in those days you could spot the make of a car from inside the house by the sound of its horn.’

Sadly, independent India deteriorated in that respect. Cool phoren cars disappeared from the streets. 

Among the car horns he learned to identify was the one belonging to his aunts’ Lancia, which ‘had a glass cricket perched on its bonnet which glowed pink as the car cruised along’.

Inside the car, his aunty was starving to death due to Great Bengal Famine- right?  

Even his friends seemed to develop magical gifts: his college chum Pritwish Neogy, for example, ‘had the extraordinary ability to identify a painting by looking at one square inch of it and, according to Satyajit, he could “immediately spot the fake from the genuine”.’

One magical gift all Indians would speedily acquire was to run the fuck away from a Satyajit Ray movie.  

Mr Robinson maintains his biographical approach up to the making of Pather Panchali, of which he provides an absorbing account. Then, somewhat regrettably, he switches to a movie-by-movie account of Ray’s career, and only occasionally attempts to weave the story of the movies into the larger story of Ray’s personal and intellectual development. It is as if Ray’s own famous reticence on personal matters has permeated the book.

Or that Robinson got bored by his subject-matter.  

Such attempts at contextualisation as are made are unfailingly interesting. Sukumar Ray’s commitment to the movement that ‘swept Bengal from 1903 in reaction to Lord Curzon’s proclaimed intention of partitioning the province’ sheds valuable light on his son Satyajit’s later decision to film the novel Rabindranath Tagore wrote about the movement, Ghare Baire (The Home and the World);

Tagore was warning the Hindus that if the Brits left the Muslims would kill them and take their estates in East Bengal. Indeed, that is how his novel ends. Ray did not show this in his film which was utter shit. David Lean had displayed Victor Bannerjee's incandescent talent in 'Passage'. Ray buried it in 'Ghare Baire'. It was at that point that all Indians agreed that Ray was shit- had always been shit and would never produce anything except shit. 

and Ray’s own family associations with Tagore himself provide equally valuable sidelights on the film director’s lifelong engagement with the writer’s work. Again, Ray’s reactions to the great Bengal Famine of 1943-4, his sense of shame at having done nothing to help the dying, powerfully informs our knowledge of the great film he later made on the subject, Asani Sanket (Distant Thunder).

Ray's family knew very well that the fault was that of Minister of Supply Suhrawardy who gave the grain contract to the Ispahanis. Still, Asani Sanket is a very funny film because it came out just as the Bangladeshi famine was raging. It was obvious that democratically elected Muslim Bengali politicians prefer lining their pockets- and that of their cronies- to feeding the starving.  

There is much interesting information about the films and their reception, too: the story of how Devi (The Goddess)

which was silly. The Devi can tell her father-in-law to go clean the latrine while handing over the ancestral property to her husband.  

was attacked by religious extremists as anti-Hindu is one such snippet.

But nobody 'fatwa'd' Ray- did they? Rushdie was unfortunate with respect to his ancestral religion. 

One cannot avoid saying, however, that the film-by-film approach does reduce the interest of this book for non-movie buffs.

Who else would read the book? Guys who are into Gay inter-species Sex?  

The book deserves to be welcomed nevertheless. It is extremely thorough, often perceptive and at times highly entertaining.

Because of all the red hot anal action- right?  

It is good to have a sympathetic portrait of one of the giants of the cinema.

A giant from whom cinema audiences ran away.  

After a heart attack and bypass surgery in 1984, Satyajit Ray’s ability to work has been restricted; his latest film, Ganashatru, a version of Ibsen’s Enemy of the People,

was incredibly stupid. Since 1860, Indian doctors have to report any public health problem directly to the State Government. Norway may have had municipal authorities of a self-governing type. India did not and does not.  

has perforce been filmed in the studio, with Ray’s son assisting his father. It is to be hoped that Ray will manage to complete many more movies, but his already-completed achievement is astonishing; and you could say that the entire oeuvre is, like the very first film, a ‘song of the little road’, because Ray has invariably preferred the intimate story to the grand epic, and is the poet par excellence of the human-scale, life-sized comedy and tragedy of ordinary men and women, journeying, as we all journey, down little, but unforgettable roads.

Nonsense! Ray had no interest in life's journey- which is about trying to get a BMW with a kick ass stereo or, if Putin invades, a fucking tank. 'Human-scale, life sized comedy' is either boring shite or features poignant farts or ruminative burps. 

It must be said that Rushdie, like Ray, was a boring bien pensant shithead. He tried to pretend otherwise by adding some 'masala' but this got him into trouble with the Ayatollah. Since then his turgid tomes have become unreadable. Still, if the Americans could pretend Ray's movies were good why should they not pretend that Rushdie is the second Kipling?  

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